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The Themes Of Love, Class System And Incest Taboo In Wuthering Heights

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INTRODUCTION

Wuthering Heights was back in those times written by unknown young girl Emily Brontë and it is considered as one of the greatest works of fiction ever written. It is the passionate love story between Catherine and Heathcliff represented as a wild, cruel character. Published in 1847 under the name of Ellis Bell, is considered one of the classic examples of English literature. Novel has been defined as romantic fiction written in the genre of the Gothic novel. As we are modern readers, we become confused by the complexities of the story. When the novel was published many Victorian critics were shocked by its brutality. Wuthering Heights is a tale of two families, the Earnshaws and the Lintons. It is narrated through the faithful servant Ellen Dean and Heathcliff’s servant, Mr. Lockwood. Through the book we can establish that is concerned with three generations in two volumes.

The heroine from Wuthering Heights, Catherine is very stubborn, selfish and sometimes arrogant but she is brave, which we can notice from defending of her attitudes, opinions and interests. Her love of the life, Heathcliff , is revengeful and very brutal. His harsh wish for revenge, two decades long, that makes him so brutal and revengeful. Even though that Catherine knows him she still loves and accepts him the way he is. Their love sometimes can be seen as selfish and destructive. The story of the Earnshaws and Lintons spans three generations and is full of torture, tyranny and intolerable cruelty.

The novel spans fifty years, past and present are banded throughout. The story is set in an extreme landscape on the wild moors, weather-beaten by icy winds, storms and rain. Although not a ruined castle, Wuthering Heights has many Gothic characteristics. It is dark, lit with candles, and has hidden rooms, passages, oak paneled beds, stairwells and banisters.

Also we can see importance of social status and we are aware of that through the entire novel. Heathcliff is not the same social status as Catherine. Our main character was an orphan, saved by Mr.Earnshaw, so from the beginning he is an outcast. It can be also concluded that their love is not only based on reputation and physical attraction but on much deeper, inner kind of love. They grew up together despite the world’s wish to separate them, and the main reason is their social status difference. The two are very similar, yet so different.

BIOGRAPHY

Emily Brontë was born on July 30, 1818, in Thornton, Yorkshire, England. Brontë is best known for her novel “Wuthering Heights”. Emily Bronte had creative sisters too, Charlotte and Anne, who had success in literature too. Bronte’s father had also published several books during his lifetime. It is known that she lived an eccentric, closely guarded life. She preferred the company of animals to people and rarely travelled, forever yearning for the freedom of Haworth and the moors. ( Paraphrased from: https://www.wuthering-heights.co.uk/wh/emily-bronte) Brontë children were a highly creative group, writing stories, plays, and poems for their own entertainment. Back in those times, female authors were often treated less seriously than their male authors in the nineteenth century. Brontë sisters thought it best to publish their adult works under assumed names. Charlotte wrote as Currer Bell, Emily as Ellis Bell, and Anne as Acton Bell. Their real identities remained secret until Emily and Anne had died, when Charlotte at last revealed the truth of their novels’ authorship. Some facts about Emily : a big animal lover, we think of Emily Brontë as a great writer, she was also an accomplished pianist. The Brontës’ family friend Ellen Nussey in Haworth, said that Emily played the family piano “with precision and brilliancy”.

Emily’s parents, Reverend Patrick Bronte and Maria Branwell Brontë, had six children and Emily Bronte was the fifth child. In 1821 Bronte’s mother died because of cancer.When her mother died, her aunt raised them. Aunt was deeply religious, Emily Brontë did not take to her aunt’s Christian enthusiasm; the character of Joseph, a caricature of an evangelical, in her most famous novel Wuthering Heights, may have been inspired by her aunt’s religiosity. It is assumed that also her brother Branwell is embodied in the character of Hindley, because of alcholic addiction. Nine months after she gave birth to Emily Bronte’s sister, Anne, and his aunt, mother’s sister, came to live with them and to care for children. When Bronte was 6 year old she was sent to the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge together with her oldest sisters Elizabeth and Maria. But the two became seriously ill and they had to return back to home, and they died there of tuberculosis in 1825. Bronte’s father took Charlotte and Emily from the school too. Emily Bronte died from tuberculosis on December 19, 1848.

ENGLISH CLASS SYSTEM IN THE 18th AND 19th CENTURY

The social class and reputation were important in England and we can say it is still important and it plays a huge role in life and society. In the 18th century status of one person influenced the life of another. In that time, in England the whole society cared for social hierarchy. There are some primary levels of British society during this period. We have the rich or upper class, the middle class and the low class. Families in Wuthering Heights are both members of the middle class, but they can be considered to be somwhere between the working class and the elite. Heathcliff’s social class and that of the other characters has a deep influence on their fate. Status of woman’s family played important role in her future life and marriage. If woman is from wealthy family this meant that she will be married for rich man. The ones with greater political power usually were the richest and they had influence. In this novel we clearly can see that social status and reputation was nicely described and narrated.

LOVE IN WUTHERING HEIGHTS

Before I begin to talk about love, I need to explain character’s roles in the novel. Heathcliff, whose parents are unknown and whose origin is very mysterious, fell in love with the heroine from Wuthering Heights, Catherine , who was a daughter of wealthy man, Mr. Earnshaw and his benefactor. In Wuthering Heights, through the characters we can find out that the meaning of love to them was hard to understand. Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s love can be called some kind of destructive, dysfunctional relationship even obsessive. These two lovers spend so much time making each other miserable.

‘Did it never strike you that if Heathcliff and I married, we should be beggars? whereas if I marry Linton, I can aid Heathcliff to rise and place him out of my brother’s power.’ (Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, page 124)

To Catherine, social status and reputation was far more important then love and marriage with the one who she loves. Marriage to Edgar Linton made her the ‘greatest woman of the neighbourhood’. The question that is important, are Heathcliff and Catherine true lovers? Many researches try to address their love and I will talk about few interpretations of love between our main characters, Heathcliff and Catherine.

One of them is soulmates. Love between two lovers exists on a higher or spiritual way, it is known that Heathcliff call Catherine his soul. They have affinity for each other since early childhood. Some critic named C. Day Lewis, Heathcliff and Catherine ‘represent the essential isolation of the soul, the agony of two souls–or rather, shall we say? two halves of a single soul–forever sundered and struggling to unite.’

It can referred to as life-force relationship, a principle that is not nominal by anything but itself. As we all know relationship of an ideal nature does not exist in life. Their relationship expresses ‘the impersonal essence of personal existence,’ an essence or ocre which Collins calls the life-force. This is the reason why Catherine and Heathcliff describe their love with impersonal terms.

Another kind of relation is ‘creating meaning’. Catherine explained that to Nelly: ‘…surely you and everybody have a notion that there is, or should be, an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning; my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and, if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the Universe would turn to a mighty stranger. I should not seem part of it’ (Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, page 125)

When Catherine was dying she told Nelly about her feelings and the emptiness and misfortune of living and all the suffer in her life. “ I’m tired, tired of being enclosed here. I’m wearying to escape into that glorious world, and to be always there; not seeing it dimly through tears, and yearning for it through the walls of an aching heart; but really with it, and in it’. (Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, page 245)

We can discuss it as transcending isolation. An attempt to break the boundaries of self and to merge with another to transcend the inherent separateness oft he human condition. That ‘merging’ motivates Heathcliff’s determation to ‘soak’ Catherine’s corpse into his and for them to ‘dissolve’ into each other so thoroughly that Edgar will not be able to distinguish Catherine from him.

Antoher example is love as religion. Love has become a religion in Wuthering Heights, some sort of shield against the fear of death and the obliteration of personal identity.

Robert M. Polhemus said: ( Paraphrased from , Google http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/novel_19c/wuthering/love.html) ‘Wuthering Heights is filled with a religious urgency–unprecedented in British novels–to imagine a faith that might replace the old. Cathy’s ‘secret’ is profaned, and Emily Brontë’s secret, in the novel, is the raging heresy that has become common in modern life: redemption, if it is possible, lies in personal desire, imaginative power, and love. Nobody else’s heaven is good enough. Echoing Cathy, Heathcliff says late in the book, ‘I have nearly attained my heaven; and that of others is altogether unvalued and uncoveted by me!'( Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights, page 507)

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The hope for salvation becomes a matter of eroticized private enterprise. This passion is a way of overcoming the threat of death and the separateness of existence. Their calling is to be the other; and that calling, mad and destructive as it sometimes seems, is religious.

The most contoversial is love as addiction. An addiction is considered when a person’s attachment to a sentiment, an object, or another person is such as to decrease his appreciation of and ability to deal with other things in his environment, or in himself. ( Paraphrased from Google, Stanton Peele, http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/novel_19c/wuthering/love.html ) The unstable characters such as Catherine and Heathcliff are isolated and vulnerable. Their love became addicitve, wants to break down the boundaries of identity and merge with the lover into one identity. Catherine said to Nelly: ‘ My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being. So don’t talk of our separation again: it is impracticable. ‘ (Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (page 125)

Bronte highlights that people are passionate and that true love can last forever, and we can see that through Heathcliff’s love for Catherine, which doesn’t end until he dies. Also Bronte points out the value of love.

The last notion is a destructive love. Love of Heathcliff was destructive because he has ruined his, Catherine’s, Cate’s, Isabella’s and both Lintons’ lives. But we can not say that Catherine’s love was not.

‘‘It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.’’ (Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, page 123)

That words made him angry. But he has not heard the second part of the sentence. Not only describes it that she does love Heathcliff but also that she does not love Edgar. At that moment Catherine decided to use Edgar. She knows that her love will change. She knows that her attacks of fury, which Edgar was a witness that day – will occur again and that some day Edgar will find out the truth and he will have to live with this knowledge. Her real reason why does she wants to marry Edgar is because she knows it is only way to help Heathcliff and her to put him on higher social status. Her love to Heathcliff – justifies deceiving Edgar. In that point of view this love is destructive , it will badly hurt Edgar Linton so it is destructive for him.

The relationship between the two lovers expresses the passionate craving to be whole, to give oneself completely to another and gain a whole self or sense of identity back, to be all-in-all for each other, so that nothing else in the world matters, and to be loved in this way forever. It is uncontrollable , unfulfillable, and persistent in its demands upon both lovers.

MARRIAGES IN WUTHERING HEIGHTS

In general, every marriage in Wuthering Heights ends wickedly. Through Bronte’s mind we can allude that she thinks marriage is destructive mainly to the women and leads to the end of love and romance. It is important to state all the major marriages in the novel because everything is related.

« Yes, you may kiss me, and cry, and wring out my kisses and tears : they’ll blight you- they’ll damn you. You loved me – then what right you had to leave me ? What right – answer me – for the poor fancy you felt for Linton ». (Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, page 246)

Catherine Earnshaw and Edgar Linton

Catherine Earnshaw marries Edgar Linton to become as I mentioned ‘the greatest woman in the neighborhood.’ She moves over from Wuthering Heights to Thrushcross Grange for socio-economic development. Even though she loves Heathcliff she marries for a better house and more land. Catherine’s interest in commodity culture appears to be a denial of her love for Heathcliff. Catherine claims to “love the ground under Edgar’s feet, and the air over his head, and everything he touches, and everything he says (Bronte, Wuthering Heights, page 119).’ This claim of love is shallow and materialistic, she never claims to love him but the things he has, and touches, a very different kind of love than she has with Heathcliff.

There are many theories why Catherine married Edgar. The first one would be the patriarchal conventions, second Catherine’s desire for wealth and social staus is a clear factor in her urge to marry Edgar Linton as he can comfortably fulfill her economic and social desire. The third one would be that Catherine’s mental health had been in breakdown for most of her life and that it progressively got worse, altering her thought process and ultimately rendering her incapable of making any major decisions.

Heatchliff and Isabella Linton

Brontë described Isabella as weak and foolish woman. She falls in love with Heathcliff , who just used her as a revenge. This marriage between Heathcliff and Isabella Linton, Edgar’s sister, is quite similar to the Catherine and Edgar’s marriage. Isabella marries Heathcliff even though she knows that he loves Catherine: ‘I love him more than ever you loved Edgar, and he might love me, if you would let him!’ (Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights page 156)

Isabella died after giving birth to her child – her son. We may assume they both died because of their love to Heathcliff and that is why in both cases it was destructive affection.

Last marriage is between young Catherine and Linton, Heathcliff and Isabella’s son. They are forced into relationship, if she refused, Linton would be punished. Another represenatation of dysfuntcional relationship. This forced marriage brought no good to anyone. Cathy soon became a widow and lives unhappily on Wuthering Heights. This strange, tense love bring some good to young Catherine and Hareton, (whose life plenty resembled Heathcliff’s) they fall in love and in fact were only ones who were not destruct by Catherine and Heathcliff love. Young Catherine will remember him of his love oft he life as we can see in the following part.

‘It was named Catherine: but he never called it the name in full, as he had never called the first Catherine short: probably because Heathcliff had a habit of doing so. The little one was always Cathy: it formed so a distinction from the mother, and yet a connection with her’.( Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, page 280)

THE INCEST TABOO IN WUTHERING HEIGHTS

In the 18th and 19th century marrying your first cousin was perfectly acceptable and the practice certainly offered some benefits: Wealth and property were more likely to remain in the same hands, and it was easier for young women to meet and be courted by bachelors within the family circle. Victorians married cousins as substitutes for beloved nuclear family members, toward whom strong attachments, accompanied by powerful unconscious incestuous feelings.

This was highly popular among the upper class. In this novel young Cathy married Hareton, Hindley’s son. Some modern critics said that an unconscious incest taboo impeded Heathcliff and Cathy’s prospect of normal relationship and led them to seek merging after death. Consequences of incest from two perspectives: that of incest as a metaphor for evil, as represented in Heathcliff that of incest as symbolic of innocence, as represented in Cathy.

CONLUSION

This novel may be concluded as the haunting story full of the tragedies, the wrong-headed decisions, the merciless cruelties, the cowardice and judgmental rejection of past life at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange are inverted and led under in the restoration of heart, mind and soul of young Catherine, Hareton and Heathcliff. Contradictory to all of that are Cathy and Hareton, become devoted to one another. Love in Wuthering Heights between Heathcliff and Catherine is presented as deeply passionate but tragic.. However, Wuthering Heights still is a great novel in shaking every reader’s soul and slips under the skin. It can show that strong and primitive emotions in some ways are a threat to the society, but in other ways, also full of the real emotion, Bronte’s and ours of course.

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The Themes Of Love, Class System And Incest Taboo In Wuthering Heights. (2021, September 03). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-themes-of-love-class-system-and-incest-taboo-in-wuthering-heights/
“The Themes Of Love, Class System And Incest Taboo In Wuthering Heights.” Edubirdie, 03 Sept. 2021, edubirdie.com/examples/the-themes-of-love-class-system-and-incest-taboo-in-wuthering-heights/
The Themes Of Love, Class System And Incest Taboo In Wuthering Heights. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-themes-of-love-class-system-and-incest-taboo-in-wuthering-heights/> [Accessed 27 Sept. 2022].
The Themes Of Love, Class System And Incest Taboo In Wuthering Heights [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 03 [cited 2022 Sept 27]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-themes-of-love-class-system-and-incest-taboo-in-wuthering-heights/
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